Close article 11th October 2014

From Base Camp to Summit: Mike Barry, Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer’s director of Plan A, Mike Barry, spoke to Zoë Arden recently about the big challenges of getting both consumer traction and employee engagement to take Plan A, the company’s sustainability strategy, to the next level.

It is always energising and inspiring to spend time with Mike Barry, a well-respected leader in the sustainability field. The current question that gets him out of bed in the morning and running up and down foothills and mountains (and he does clock up the miles) is, how can he get more of his 80,000 M&S colleagues and 34 million customers ‘activated’?

His view is, “You don’t want to wag a finger at consumers for ‘being bad’. We need to inspire people to eat well”. He takes the example of red meat where, at the moment, there is no compelling mainstream campaign. “We are encouraging people to try new, exciting, innovative vegetarian options. We invented ready meals in the 70s and we continue to innovate them and offer really delicious choices that give shoppers compelling reasons to eat less red meat. At M&S, we are lucky to have a direct channel to the consumer as 99% of what we sell is own label so the more we can innovate and embed Plan A into the brand, the more impact we will have as a responsible retailer.”

In the past, Mike has described their journey as akin to trekking through the foothills of CSR and that after 7 years of Plan A they are now at the Base Camp of Mount Sustainability in terms of the challenge that lies ahead with regard to embedding sustainability into the M&S business model. There is increasing recognition within the Plan A team that you can’t commence up the mountain until you’ve conquered the foothills, where employees and consumers live and work. “In a way, we’re dialling back to basics to help build solid local foundations at store level. If you work in a store in Wigan, you probably care most about what we’re doing in your town. What are the local charity partnerships? How can colleagues get involved? That’s how we’ll really start to build a stronger connection with our bigger Plan A ambitions.”

With consumers as well, he believes there is a continued preoccupation with ‘hyper local’: “In the current economic climate, people care most about ‘my job, my future, my mortgage, my kids. What are you doing M&S to help this specific community? I am really pleased that you are tackling breast cancer with your charity partnerships and trying to save the planet with Plan A but what are you doing for me here?’”

He sees the need to work on an international level, national level and increasingly on a hyper local level. “We need an emotional connection with the communities where we trade and a deep-seated emotional connection between the brand, the product and the customer and this starts in each local store with our staff.”

If anyone has got the energy to climb Mt Sustainability, it’s Mike Barry. The question on our mind is, can we help carry your salmon and cucumber sarnies?


Originally posted on Radar, Issue 5

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